Now that Bill 21 (the Act respecting the laicity of the State (the “Act”)) is officially in force in Quebec, many professionals working in public institutions, including physicians, are questioning its practical implications. Unlike the Parti Québécois’ late bill, the Charte affirmant les valeurs de laïcité et de neutralité religieuse de l’État, the Act does not prohibit physicians working in the public system from wearing religious symbols. Physicians are not among the persons specifically named in the Act as being subject to the formal prohibition on wearing a religious symbol in the performance of their duties. An exception to this general rule will apply, however, to physicians who act as government-appointed commissioners or who sit on an administrative tribunal.
In addition, the Act imposes a general obligation on physicians to provide services with face uncovered. The requirement to have the face uncovered will also apply to patients who would like to obtain medical services when the physician considers it necessary for the patient to uncover his face in order to identify him or for safety reasons. However, the obligation of the physician to provide services with face uncovered and the obligation of the patient to have his face uncovered, when necessary, will not apply to a person whose face is covered for health reasons, because of a disability or because of requirements specific to his functions or the performance of certain tasks.
Also, more generally, public institutions providing health and social services are now subject to the principle of the religious neutrality of the State. According to the application of the Act, these institutions must therefore respect the same principle, in fact and in appearance, in the performance of their mission. What are the prerogatives that will flow from this obligation? This question, like many others, remains unanswered today.